Arsenal's Dip in Form: Picking Up the Pieces…and Moving Forward
It's really amazing how we football fans allow this beautiful game to dictate a certain part of our lives.
For starters, we can go through seven mountains and seven seas just to get our team's merchandise. Our weekends and sometimes our mid-weeks are also dictated by the teams we support because we tend to remember match fixtures better than some birthdays or anniversaries.
However, football is a game that ends with three possible outcomes; a victory, a share of the spoils or a crushing defeat. Every fan relishes seeing their team win, and victories usually go hand in hand with celebrations. Draws come with varied reactions, usually dependent on the opposition faced, and no fan can stand the gut feeling a defeat brings.
Arsenal has been very disappointing this season, despite having a squad capable of competing with the big guns on all fronts. In the yesteryear, fans were skeptical about the abilities of the players in the goalkeeping position but Wojciech Szczesny came along and calmed those storms. Don't get me wrong, I won't rate Szczesny with the Casillases and Buffons of the world but if he puts his head down, Szczesny will be a world beater in the foreseeable future.
In the wake of Arsenal's crushing defeat by Swansea, Szczesny acknowledged his disappointment but also stated that his team needs to keep the faith. In my years as an Arsenal fan, I can count the amount of times I’ve seen that banner in the stadium.
The young goalie also stated that he’s getting back to his best form and I must say that having him around has been a breath of fresh air. Szczesny took over the baton from Vito Mannone in the North London derby and kept two clean sheets on the trot before Marouane Fellaini’s sweet curler that tore his shutout record to shreds. The Pole made some great saves against Swansea but a late Michu brace was enough to put the game beyond doubt.
This is definitely Arsene Wenger’s worst season in the helm of affairs at Arsenal, but he has pledged that he’s not going to chicken out on his team, and has reiterated his desire to see out his contract that wraps up in 18 months’ time. Wegner attributed fatigue yet again to the loss against Swansea but we know that there are several loopholes in Arsenal which need fixing.
If you look at the present crop of players and compare them to last season’s squad, the only significant difference is the departure of two key players: Robin van Persie and Alex Song. We all had a hunch that the Dutch star wasn’t going to stay after stalling to sign a new deal before dropping that bombshell that earned him a pantomime villain status.
The acquisitions of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud have softened the blow caused by van Persie’s exit and both forwards have contributed immensely to the team with a joint amount of 14 goals and a boatload of assists.
However, I will attribute Arsenal’s current slump in form to the lack of balance and depth in the midfield. I know I might get some stick with the second attribute noted, bearing in mind that Arsenal has Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby, Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin and Emmanuel Frimpong in its ranks.
Arteta’s early season form made everyone write off the acrimonious departure of Song, but with fatigue creeping in on Arteta, the picture has been painted vividly for everyone to see. Francis Coquelin and Emmanuel Frimpong are Arteta’s current deputies but the latter has been shipped out on loan while the former still remains on the fringes.
Last season, Arteta manned the box-to-box role like no other, using his vast experience, maturity and amazing footballing ability to maintain the right balance between attack and defense. With this role, Arteta integrated himself into the nucleus of the team. Arsenal clearly struggled while he was out with an injury as there was no one to cover Song’s tracks when he forayed forward.
This season, Arteta’s redeployment as a holding midfielder has given Wenger the chance to test other players in the box-to-box role as the attacking midfield role was Santi Cazorla’s to keep. Abou Diaby excelled in the box-to-box role in the start of this campaign, but the gods of injuries ravaged the Frenchman and he has been out for awhile.
Aaron Ramsey has played this role a couple of times this season but his strong engine and work rate has made Wenger use him as a make-shift winger, which makes me feel that he’s Arsenal’s version of James Milner. No one can fault Ramsey’s commitment in every game he plays, but his influence on the pitch is usually slim to none.
With Diaby and Ramsey out of the way, the box-to-box mantle was handed to long-term injury returnee, Jack Wilshere, and he has done pretty well in my opinion. However, Wilshere is still struggling with the pace of the game, but should recover over time. The question is, will Wilshere be used as the box-to-box midfielder week-in week-out given his injury record?
There has been some side-talk of Arsenal sending scouts to watch PSV Eindhoven’s Kevin Strootman and that’s one addition I’ll gladly welcome at Arsenal. I must admit that I don’t watch the Dutch EreDivisie, but I’ve seen Strootman a couple of times in the Europa League as well as in qualifiers and friendlies for the Dutch national side.
Since Louis van Gaal took over the reins of the Oranje, Strootman has been a mainstay in the team and he combines a couple of roles in midfield, as he’s adept playing as a holding midfielder and a deep-lying playmaker.
Wenger has clearly lost faith in Marouane Chamakh, so it’s high time the boss delves into the transfer market to get a striker to support Olivier Giroud. According to the Telegraph, Wenger has stated that he intends to sign two new players and re-sign Thierry Henry for his third spell with the club.
We have analyzed the game [on Saturday], watched the game and, if you look at the results over the weekend, it is difficult for everybody in the Premier League. "I believe what is important is to play our football, improve the way we play and keep faith in our players. At the moment, that is very important to me. If you look at people’s reaction, everything is dramatic. What is important is to be capable to play football.
It has been dramatic alright, but we all know that this Arsenal squad is capable of great things, as well as, capitulating in grand style. The performances against Liverpool (away), Manchester City (away) and Tottenham (home) showed how scintillating this team can be, but reality shows that this team has won just five of its first 15 Premier League games.
Arsenal’s fixture list for this festive period is winnable on paper but that was the same thing we felt going into games against Norwich and Swansea. A good showing against Olympiakos in Athens will go a long way in shaping the destiny of this team.
Arsenal is currently suffering a dip in form, let’s pick up the pieces and move forward.
This article is also featured on Toni Okike's Arsenal blog, Gooner Daily
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